Sunday, 01 March 2015 00:00

Israel's Countryside

Written by  Rita Cook

There are many destinations to visit  while in Israel, despite most folks arriving and immediately heading to Jerusalem and then completing their tour in Tel Aviv. Israel is a country where an astonishing amount of history sits front and center alongside the modernity of Tel Aviv. Take some time while traveling and head out to the countryside where some of the lesser known, but equally interesting stops will tell the bigger story.

Consider spending a few nights in the city of Haifa, and then travel on to the Dead Sea, stopping in that area at Masada and in the Negev Desert. These locations offer special allure which makes Israel a unique travel destination for pilgrimages or travelers interested in its
fascinating history.

In Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, the Bahia Shrine and “hanging gardens” are the main draws. Located in between Mount Carmel and the Mediterranean Sea, the Bahia Shrine, built in 1909, offers visitors a glimpse of its new golden dome which was unveiled a few years ago, after a large restoration project, and now features 12,000 new porcelain gilded tiles. Take extra time to enjoy the stunning gardens surrounding the Bahia Shrine.
In Haifa there are also fabulous museums, including the Katz Museum of Art, the Tikotin Museum with a variety of Japanese art pieces, the Hecht Museum at Haifa University, with displays of architecture from around Israel, and the National Museum of Science, Technology and Space with over 400 hands-on exhibits.  
From there, head to the neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas where public art and local food stands dominate, and cultures from the various regions live in harmony including a German Colony that was established by the German Templars in the early 1900s.

Several days in the Dead Sea area is a must. It’s the lowest spot on earth at 1,365 feet below sea level.  The Dead Sea is easily reached via the Judean Mountains from Jerusalem. The Judean desert with its stark landscape serves as the gateway to the Dead Sea. Local spas offer therapies using the healing properties of the waters there. Visitors can float without sinking in the highly saline water that has over eight times more salt than the ocean, or can take a plunge in the sulfur pools while slathered with black
mineral mud.

During opera season, nearby Masada offers open air performances under the night sky. During the day, visitors can take the cable car up to the top of Masada, to learn the history of this very special ancient fortress. Masada was a stronghold for King Herod atop of the mountain where he had a palace. This location eventually became the scene of a revolt against the Romans, where Jewish refugees from the Roman destruction of Jerusalem survived the Roman siege for three years.

Also in the area is Qumran, the Essene settlement where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves in 1947 after being undiscovered for 2,000 years. Travelers should visit the nearby excavations which are still going on today, and then make a stop at the Kibbutz Almog, the museum of the scrolls.
In the Negev Desert you will hear stories of the wanderings of the children of Israel, but these days, it’s an area that wine-o-philes have come to frequent as one of the finest wine regions in the country. Overall, there are roughly 400 wineries in Israel, also including Galilee-Golan, Shomron, Samson and the Judean Hills. The Negev wine region is a must stop while in the area, extending from the border of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to the Dead Sea in the east, and to the port of Eilat on the Red Sea in the south.
Some might say growing wine in the desert is a bad idea, but don’t mention that to the wineries there. The soil is sandy and dusty and the temperatures hot during the day and cold at night.  Vineyards in the Negev Desert thrive thanks to technologies that help create top quality grapes. There are over 30 different wines grown in this region, including wines at the popular Barkan Winery at Mitzpe Ramon, offering a wide range of wines including a distinctive red Cabernet Sauvignon. This winery also pioneered the South African varietal Pinotage in Israel, and that’s no small feat.
With many regions to visit in Israel, the country certainly has much to offer.  Modern, yet rich in history with a variety of beaches, shopping and nature, coupled with healthy spas, round out a vacation destination perfect for any traveler. Visit


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